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Military lifts ban on flash media

Thu, 02/18/2010 - 11:24am
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

SanDisk- Thumb DriveTwo years ago, DOD banned all “flash media” devices in an effort to contain the “Agent.btz” computer virus. In 2009, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “I do not see the thumb drives going back here in the immediate future.” Yet a year later (nearly to the day), the ban has been lifted.

Instituted in November 2008, the ban included memory sticks, thumb drives, flash memory cards such as XD, SD, Micro, Mini, CF, MS, cards etc., cameras, portable music players and PDAs. It immediately proved an extreme nuisance. For some units, “flash media” was a godsend—why lug bulky tech manuals when you can store a library on a tiny stick? Moreover, the physical storage medium is vital in environments (like the desert) where networks are unreliable.

The stopgap solution was slow and inefficient. “Up until a year ago, we were using thumb drives all over the place,” said Robert Carey, chief information officer of the U.S. Navy. “Now I've got to burn a CD.”

Flash forward a year and the ban’s been lifted, but under restrictive conditions. According to StratCom, only “properly inventoried, government-procured and owned devices” will be allowed on military networks.

In this editor’s opinion, the original ban was a knee-jerk overreaction to an admittedly tough problem. But the underlying security concerns have only partially been addressed. “Government-procured” or not, it seems we’re back where we started.

Update (2/23): Apparently, the ban has not been lifted just yet. I quote the Army.mil news release: "According to the AGNOSC (Army Global Network Operations Security Center), there are conditions that must be met prior to the lift of the ban. Those conditions include, but are not limited to ensuring that users are only using government-approved and purchased devices and that Army networks are properly configured."

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